Let’s consider our first reading for All Saints Day, from our favorite book of the Bible, Revelation…
Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. (Revelation 7:3)
Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees. Yet. Wait to destroy it all. Wait to level the pillars of the earth. Wait to cast the stars down from the sky. Wait until the chosen people have been marked on the forehead with the seal of God.
“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” With these words, and with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we were confirmed as Christians. We cannot see the seal on each others’ foreheads now. But it is perfectly real and absolutely permanent.
The mark of fully initiated Christians cannot be seen by human eyes yet, but the angels see it. They see the cross of chrism that the bishop traced. The angels will see it there when our skulls lay in the grave. And we, too, finally will see it on our brothers’ and sisters’ foreheads—at the general resurrection.
So saith the angel sent by the Lamb of God: Wait, destroyers of the heavens and the earth! Wait. Wait until all the springtime confirmation Masses have taken place. Wait until everyone gets through RCIA. Wait until the last baby gets baptized. Then you can consume the earth in the great and terrible fire.
Scripture gives us our insight into this dramatic divine order: Wait.
We hardly need the Scriptures to teach us that destruction will indeed overcome the material cosmos. We see the force of destruction at work every day. Sometimes the force looms large, like a huge hurricane storm surge. On the other hand, more often we see the force at work in little ways. Things get old, fall apart, fail. Fan belts crack. Screws rust. Duct tape loses its adhesive power. Chaos sets in. Beautiful and complete wholes dissolve into piles of dust.
But the forces of destruction do not have infinite power. That is what we learn from God’s Word. The ultimate power allows destruction to do its work, but under this order: Wait until the people have been sealed.
The world will be purified by fire. Then the dead will rise again. The seal of the cross will mark the saints.
We live, therefore, in the gracious interval. We are living during time specifically ordained by God, ordained for one reason: our salvation. The love of Christ has given us the very days in which we live.
Why does this sacred time have light and sunrises and sunsets and autumns and springtimes? To build up the eternal city, to build up the kingdom of God for the day that will last forever, for the undying springtime that will never give way to a hurricane season. Every moment of time in our lives comes like a pregnant woman, ready to give birth to the eternity to come.
What does a saint do now, then? I protest that I myself don’t rightly know. But: Seems to me that a saint is simply a fully initiated Christian who greets every moment of time for what it is. Every second comes as a gift that God has preserved from annihilation. He has preserved it so that we could do something beautiful with it.
Can a man of the cloth publicly admit that he has a hopeless crush on George Eliot?
Someday we will wonder: How did rape become Sensational Campaign Issue #1 in 2012?
I for one imagine that this fact causes some pain to anyone who has to confront bad memories whenever she hears the word—i.e., a person who has been raped.
Dear sister, I don’t like the strange, shamelessly self-serving hue and cry any more than you do. Nor do I offer apologias for any maladroit Senate candidates.
But I would like to point out one fact about the cause. I mean the cause for rape becoming shallow-public-policy-debate fodder.
Why would rape be the subject of a question at a senate-candidate debate in Indiana, or any other state, in the first place?
Because of abortion. Because of surgical and chemical abortion. Because there are people who kill unborn children with sharp instruments and/or poisons.
Would that it were not so. Would that everyone looked squarely at the scientific facts. Would that everyone involved in abortion paused for a moment to reflect on the fundamental principles of medical ethics.
If they had done this, we wouldn’t be here. The pain of rape would not be a political football, pounced on by every 300-pound lineman in sight.
But, Father! Wait! If no one practiced surgical or chemical abortions, then, if I had gotten pregnant when I was raped, I would have had a baby.
That is true.
…I am no politician. But I think I may safely observe that a televised political debate does not provide the wisest forum for making points about how God tolerates evil in order to bring good out of it. Even St. Thomas Aquinas’ subtle eloquence got strained to the breaking point when he dealt with that subject.
So let’s just leave it with the simple facts. People who know rape first-hand could be spared the weird, bone-crunching pain of Jay Leno and the President discussing it on The Tonight Show, if only everyone who had anything to do with abortion looked at the evidence for fifteen minutes and then spent thirty minutes sitting quietly to think about it.
And yes, if you were pregnant then, your baby would be kicking around on earth somewhere now, maybe at a Halloween party.
Your faith has saved you. (Mark 10:52)
Last Sunday we began to discuss the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church.
Actually, it’s not true.
I mean, that we started discussing Vatican II’s portrait of the Church last week. In fact, we began to discuss it two weeks ago, when we reflected on the conversation the Lord Jesus had with the rich young man.
We wondered how we camels will get ourselves through the eye of the needle and into the kingdom of heaven. Chapter V of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church teaches the means by which every Christian person can seek holiness. Intentionally to choose poverty, chastity, and obedience ranks high among those means. And the Council taught that yet a higher means of attaining holiness beckons the chosen few, namely martyrdom.
In the spring, we talked about the federal Affordable Care Act, and how we would love it, were it not for the parts of it that we hate. I hope all of us grasp the responsibility we have as Christians to consider the politics of our country from the point-of-view of the weakest and most defenseless people, the people who have no voice, no money, no power, especially the thousands of innocent unborn children who die by violence every day.
So we covered our pro-life principles back in the spring. Now let’s consider something else…
The history of our nation has seen admirable civil-rights movements. Inspiring leaders have helped us to perceive the fundamental dignity of every individual human being. Thanks to these movements, we wonder now: How could any of our ancestors have held our other ancestors as slaves? And how could our forefathers have regarded our excellent foremothers as anything but perfectly capable and intelligent?
Crusades for justice fought by earlier generations have given us liberating clarity and insight. But we also have to acknowledge that such crusades tend to oversimplify things. Social movements paint the world with a very broad brush, dividing it into two forces: the noble, aggrieved class and their advocates on one side, and the villainous enemies of change on the other.
Now, let’s consider: Do you or I sin against justice by saying to a homosexual person: Dear homosexual brother, dear homosexual sister, God wills something better for you than to do unnatural and unfruitful things with your body?
Is this statement oppressive and unjust? We disciples of the chaste and pure Christ freely acknowledge that the “something better” God has in mind for homosexual people is also something harder. God wills something harder for the homosexual person, just like He wills something harder for anyone who has cancer, or for a young widow or widower, or for a handicapped person.
Getting sick is hard, losing a spouse before their time is hard, being celibate is hard. All involve carrying a cross heavier than what anyone wants to have to carry. But when we carry our crosses in faith, we become the people God made us to be.
We Catholics say to any person with homosexual desires: God wills something better for you than to give in. Stand right here beside us. We will carry our crosses together, with the help of Christ’s grace. We do not consider you to be “gay.” We call you a brother or a sister Christian. Let’s fight the good fight for chastity together.
Does saying this make us the enemies of a human right? We call it love to try to inspire people to have noble aspirations and seek God’s help in rising above the concupiscence of the flesh. But we have to face the sobering facts: A strong and self-assured social movement, with tons of money and prestige, calls what we say not love, but hate.
Let’s ask ourselves: If things continue to move in the direction in which they are headed, will there be room left for the Catholic Church as a mainstream institution in los Estados Unidos in twenty years? Or will the administration of President Brad Pitt have gotten our official teaching on homosexuality declared illegal by Chief Justice Ted Olson’s Supreme Court?
If we do not have the guts to think clearly now about the meaning of marriage, and find a way to stand our ground—if we do not offer our contemporaries a strong and loving answer to the Same-Sex Marriage Movement, an answer that springs from what we know about the sacredness of the human body, made male and female, and the beauty of lifetime marital fidelity—if we do not paint a picture of something better and truer than what the captains of our culture peddle these days, and then give ourselves over completely to the truth we believe in—if we fail to shine the light, in other words, then if we find ourselves outlawed and operating clandestinely and ineffectively out of someone’s basement in twenty years, we will have only ourselves to blame.
Being against “gay marriage” means defending the interests of children. But even more important is that we know, understand, and love what we are for. We are for Christian chastity, faithfulness, and fruitfulness.
If it becomes illegal to be for what Jesus Christ is for, then bring on the handcuffs! We will sing in our jail cells. For the sake of all the confused and misguided souls who have never heard of Christian chastity, we cannot afford to be wimps about this. We are living through a decisive time, and we have to be ready and willing to be fed to the lions—if that’s what it takes to stand with the chaste, loving Christ.
What if the triune God never revealed Himself? Who would I worship?
Probably Virginia. Even if Virginia only included Augusta, Rockbridge, and Botetourt Counties, I would worship it. But it includes all the other counties, too! Especially Franklin and Henry.
Godlike in splendor. Idolizable if anything ever was.
…Had the opportunity to see a performance of Merchant of Venice at the American Shakespeare Center. The company executed the task with the usual aplomb. If they camped it up a bit, or indulged in tasteless physical comedy, they only did it to try to convey the humor of the text to their predominantly high-school-age audience.
The company also over-indulged, I think, in actually spitting on Shylock and Tubal. Does Shakespeare direct the actors to spit? No. The on-stage spittle only distracted us audience peoples. (Overheard in the bathroom: “Do they get paid extra since they spit on them?”)
The words, my friends! The words have more than enough bitterness of their own. The imprecations savor with plenty of verbal venom. Frinstance:
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!
Let me say ‘amen’ betimes, lest the devil cross my
prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew.
The key to the play? The fact that it explains the Parable of the Unforgiving Steward. (It explains the whole New Testament pretty well.) And Shylock’s humanity.
The usurer’s avarice, his malice against Antonio, his stubbornness: none of these are literally monstrous. His daughter breaks his heart by eloping–and taking the family jewels with her. He rails against the monetary loss with a lump in his throat. What really pains him? Jessica’s betrayal. And the fact that none of the other Venetian fathers can be bothered to give him the tiniest doit of commiseration. They think nothing of treating the Jew with hard-hearted contempt.
Of course, Shylock’s heart hardens to stone. His maniacal craze for vindication—for justice! my bond!—paints the perfect caricature of blinkered, zealous man: Absolutely dead to rights, within the point-of-view of the rifle-sight. Shylock’s bond has all the force of law, and who could really gainsay his legal reasoning?
But, outside what the scope takes in: an agent of justice stands with an axe, an axe that will fall on me, and his claim on me has much more to it than my claim does.
Where did the Venetian hard-heartedness begin? Did Shylock wrong a Christian first, or did a Christian wrong him first? The profoundest truth of the play rests on the fact that it has no interest whatsoever in answering this question.
In the end, the ladies turned lawyers, Portia and Nerissa, manage to turn the central theme of the tragedy—just retribution—into comedy. Their men, who protest their honor too much, wind up reduced to unimpressive and unconvincing stammerings to explain their own untruth.
Justice? Please. For man it is impossible. Better to try to make friends. With unassuming gentleness. Maybe even love.
The battle we lost in Washington, D.C.:
5. My Letter to Councilmember Marion Barry on the day the new law went into effect (written in the spring of 2010; I don’t think I could write the same letter now)
Of course we’re against it. Let’s focus on what we are for:
Obergefell Day: Nature, Sterility, and How Love Really Wins
Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38)
The Lord Jesus asked the ambitious Apostles this question. When the Lord referred to “the baptism with which I am baptized,” what exactly did He mean?
Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. (Luke 12:6)
The notice of God.
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? God hears.
The multicolored deep-sea eels and seahorses and octopi, and other magnificent creatures that live in the ocean’s deepest valleys and have passed through countless generations without a single human eye ever being laid on their stunning beauties—why do they exist? Because God takes notice of them constantly and delights in them.
What could be more terrible and disorienting than the idea that God does not notice what I do or who I am? Could the world really be so completely meaningless that what I do and who I am just falls into a chasm of nothing, and no one cares? That no one knows the whole truth, and we are all doomed to be imperfectly understood by our fellowmen and then die—with no one ever altogether noticing? I mean, even if I got my own show on cable, the cruel fact of the matter is that not everyone would watch it.
Can it really just be empty air around me, and my own pitiful forgotten self?
No. God takes note. God notices. When I tell a lie and apparently get away with it, God knows the truth. When I do the right thing, and everyone else is too self-absorbed to appreciate it, God does notice. There is always an audience—an eminently discerning, selflessly appreciative audience.
He does not let sparrows fall to the ground without noticing. He does not let stinkbugs gets squshed in an unconcerned oblivion. No, God has counted every stinkbug.
And He values us much more highly than any stinkbug, any sparrow, any beluga whale.
Seven billion may strike us as an inconceivably large number, beyond real reckoning, like an endless ant colony of humanoids on this spinning rock. But for God, to focus on every human being, to know the truth in every human heart—that’s how He rolls.
He looks at each of us all the time, with infinitely more tender care than a mother looking at her single newborn child. He notices every little breath each of takes. And He guides us toward the complete revelation of His loving gaze, when we will know fully, even as we are now fully known by God.
The four gospels provide us with our clear picture of the living Son of God. Four men composed these books, with the Holy Spirit guiding them, and using all their skill as writers, too.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have achieved a great literary feat. The subject of their writing emerges in vivid color, and they themselves disappear.
St. Luke did not write about himself; he wrote about the Son of God. Ditto for the three other invisible word-portrait painters. When they wrote, they forgot about themselves and gave us Christ.
Luke and John, though, do each provide one sentence to explain their goal in writing, namely to give true testimony. St. Luke spells it out most clearly. He addresses us directly:
Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses have handed them down. I decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent lover of God. (Luke 1)
We have two extremely solid reasons, then, for trusting the four gospels of the New Testament as the definitive standard when it comes to information about Jesus of Nazareth.
1. If we hold the Christian faith, then it is because the Church has taught it to us. We believe that the Sacred Scriptures provide us with infallibly true teaching because the Church says that they do.
2. If we read documents with an historian’s critical eye, we recognize that the four gospels of the New Testament have a much higher level of credibility than any other source of information about Jesus of Nazareth. All the other sources—the “apocryphal gospels” and other fragments here and there—were all written generations later than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And many of the other supposed sources of information have obvious axes to grind, whereas the canonical gospels have, as we mentioned earlier, an evident purity of intention in their presentation.
So: Talk-show hosts and other sensationalists might jump all over so-called “discoveries” that Jesus was married, or had a girlfriend, or lived to be seventy, or wore a bandana and combat boots, or was a Hindu, or preferred horseback riding to religion. But anyone who actually knows something about this just laughs. We appreciate what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did to give us information about the Son of God upon which we can absolutely rely.